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    Chapter XVI. Frank's Story

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    They all gazed in the direction in which Nan pointed. The crowd of visitors to the circus was thinning out now, and down toward the edge of a little creek could be seen the missing Freddie walking along, his hand thrust trustingly into that of the strange boy.

    "Why--why!" began Bert. "That fellow--that boy--he--" and then he stopped. Bert was not exactly sure of what he was going to say.

    "Oh, Freddie!" cried Mrs. Bobbsey, running forward. "Where have you been! Such a start as you've given us! Where were you?"

    But Freddie himself did not seem as anxious to rush into his mother's arms as she was to clasp him. He plodded along with the strange boy, looking quite content, and as if he wondered what all the fuss was about.

    "Dere de honey lamb am!" exclaimed black

    Dinah, a grin spreading over her face. "De ole lion didn't cotch him after all. Dere's mah honey lamb!"

    "Freddie! Freddie!" cried Flossie, who had been resting in Uncle Daniel's arms, "did a lion eat you, Freddie? Did he?"

    "A lion eat him? Of course not!" laughed Bert. And Bert was doing some hard thinking as he stared at the strange boy who had Freddie by the hand.

    "I thought we should find him," said Uncle Daniel. "I knew he couldn't be lost with all these circus people around. I say!" called Mr. Bobbsey's brother to one of the men who had been helping hunt for the missing boy. "Just tell them that we found him, will you, please? Freddie's found."

    "Yes, sir, I'll tell 'em," said the man. "I'm glad he's all right. I'll tell 'em!"

    "But where were you, Freddie?" asked his mother, who by this time had him safely in her arms. "Oh, where were you?"

    "I found him down by the edge of the creek, watching 'em water the elephants," explained the strange boy, who, Mrs. Bobbsey thought, had a good, kind face. "You see, we water the elephants every afternoon when the show is over," the boy went on, "and it was down there I found him."

    "Oh, I can't thank you enough for bringing him back to us," said Mrs. Bobbsey. "You were so good!"

    "I didn't know just where he belonged," the strange boy explained. "But he told me his name, and where he lived, and of course I knew I could send word to his folks, though I didn't see, at first, how he got here all the way from Lakeport."

    "Oh, we are visiting at his uncle's farm at Meadow Brook," explained Mrs. Bobbsey.

    "So he said," went on the boy. "I was bringing him to the lost tent, when he spied you and said you were his folks."

    "And I saw 'em water the elephants!" cried Freddie, struggling to get loose from his mother's arms. "The elephant sucked the water up into his nose, ma, and then he squirted it down his throat just like my fire engine squirts water. Only, 'course an elephant squirts lots more water than my engine. But I'm goin' to get a bigger one that squirts as much as a elephant, that's what I goin' to do. And I saw one elephant, ma, he went right out in the water and laid down in it. What do you think of that!"

    "The elephants often do that, ma'am," explained the strange boy. "They like to get a bath now and then, but we don't often have time to give it to them."

    "You speak as though you belonged to the circus," said Uncle Daniel.

    "I do," answered the boy. "That is, I'm with one of the side-shows, and I help around when there's nothing else to do."

    "Well, it was very kind of you to bring back my little boy," went on Mrs. Bobbsey. Freddie was busy telling Flossie all the wonderful things he had seen.

    "Oh, I didn't do anything, ma'am," the boy said. "I sort of knew this little fellow."

    "You knew him?" questioned Uncle Daniel.

    "Well, that is I'd seen him before."

    "But I can't understand how Freddie became lost," said Mrs. Bobbsey, while Uncle Daniel was wondering where the strange boy had seen Freddie before. "How did you get lost, Freddie?" his mother asked him.

    "Lost! I wasn't lost!" he exclaimed. "I knew where I was all the time. I was with the elephants. It was you who got lost, mamma--you and Nan and Flossie and Bert--"

    "Well, we called you lost," laughed Uncle Daniel. "But you're all right now, thanks to this boy. Do you live around here?" he asked. "I don't seem to remember you, though I know most of the folks in this section. But if you have seen Freddie before you must live around here."

    "Oh, no, sir," was the answer. "I'm with the circus. But I used to live--"

    "I know you now!" interrupted Bert. "You're Frank Kennedy, and I was with my father, calling on Mr. Mason, when I saw you. Freddie was with me then. Don't you remember, Freddie?" asked Bert. "This is the boy we saw--the boy we saw getting a--"

    And Bert stopped. He did not want to say "shaking," for it was when Frank Kennedy was being severely shaken by Mr. Mason, on account of the bad twenty dollar bill, that the strange boy had last been seen by the Bobbsey lads. And on that occasion Frank had run away.

    "Oh, now I know you!" cried Freddie, laughing.

    "Yes, I am the boy you saw getting a shaking, for something that wasn't my fault!" exclaimed Frank, and his voice was hard and bitter. "I made up my mind I wouldn't stand Mr. Mason's cruel treatment any longer, so I ran away. I did see you two boys that time I got a shaking," Frank admitted. "You were in an automobile then," he went on, "and Mr. Bobbsey was with you." He looked around as though in search of the twins' father.

    "Mr. Bobbsey had to go back to Lakeport on business," explained Mrs. Bobbsey. "We came over from Meadow Brook to the circus here to-day. And I remember Mr. Bobbsey speaking of you. So you ran away?"

    "Yes'm, I ran away. I couldn't stand it in that lumber office any longer the way Mr. Mason treated me. It wasn't fair. And I'm never going back again, either. I don't like him, and he doesn't like me. I'll never let him be my guardian again."

    "Poor boy!" murmured Mrs. Bobbsey. "You must have had a hard time. Did you come with this circus as soon as you ran away?"

    "No'm, I had a pretty bad spell first along. When I ran away I had only the clothes I wore, and only a little money. It was my own!" he said, quickly, lest they think he might have taken it from Mr. Mason's lumber office. But one look at Frank's face showed that he was honest.

    "What did you do?" asked Uncle Daniel.

    "Well, I walked as far as I could the first night," Frank said, going on with his story. "Then I crawled in a barn to sleep."

    "Didn't you have anything to eat?" asked Nan softly. She felt very sorry for the boy.

    "Well, I had a couple of crackers I had saved from my lunch that day," he explained. "Then near the barn was a cow, and I milked her. That and the crackers was all I had for supper. But I slept good in the hay."

    "I had a good sleep in some hay!" exclaimed Freddie, as he remembered the time they had played hide-and-go-seek in the barn.

    "It makes a good bed when you're tired," said Frank.

    "What did you have for breakfast?" asked Flossie. "I like an orange and oatmeal for mine."

    "Well, I didn't have anything like that for mine," explained Frank with a smile. "I didn't have much of anything the first morning. I tramped on, and finally I found a place where I could chop some wood, and a lady gave me some bread and milk. It tasted very good."

    "How did you get with the circus?" asked Bert. That part interested him more than how Frank got something to eat.

    "Well, I just happened to come to the town where the circus was giving a show," explained Frank. "I was around when the men were watering the horses and other animals, and I helped carry water. Then one of the men asked me if I didn't want work, and I said I did. I was hungry then, too, and I could smell the things cooking in the circus kitchen tent. So I went to work for this show, and I've been here ever since. It's better than working in a lumber office when you get shook up every now and then," he added with a smile.

    "And do you still help water the elephants?" asked Uncle Daniel.

    "Oh, no, I help take tickets at one of the side shows," explained Frank. "The one where the fat lady and snakes are. I like it, though sometimes I help water the animals when I have nothing else to do. The circus people are good to me. I've earned enough money to get some clothes, and I'm never hungry any more. I was pretty ragged when I came to the circus, for I had been tramping around sleeping in barns, or wherever I could."

    "Wouldn't it have been better to have gone back to Mr. Mason, your guardian?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey, for she had heard her husband tell of the time he, Bert and Freddie had seen the boy shaken before he ran away.

    "Oh, no'm!" Frank exclaimed. "I'm never going back to that lumber office. Mr. Mason accused me of losing twenty dollars for him. Well perhaps I did, but it wasn't my fault that the man gave me bad money that looked like good. I'm never going back!"

    "Well, I don't know as I blame you," said Uncle Daniel softly, "but a circus is no place for a young boy. It's a hard life."

    "Are you going to stay with this show?" asked Mrs. Bobbsey.

    "Until I can get something better to do," answered Frank. "I know it isn't a good business, but I'll stay here until I can save some money, and then I'll look for something better. But I'll have to stay here for a while."

    "Maybe you could give him work on the farm," suggested Aunt Sarah to her husband in a whisper. "I don't like him to be with a circus. And he was so good to Freddie that we ought to do something for him."

    "He's too young to work on a farm," replied Uncle Daniel. "And he might be in a worse place than this circus. But we must be starting back home. It's getting late."

    Freddie was hugged and kissed by his sisters, mother and aunt, and Mrs. Bobbsey insisted on making Frank a little present of money, for his kindness to Freddie. Frank did not want to take it, but finally he did.

    "I'll buy some new shoes with it," he said.

    "I shall tell my husband how good you were to find Freddie," said Mrs. Bobbsey, "and I am sure he will want to do something for you. I wish you would write to me once in a while. We should like to keep track of you."

    "I will," promised the boy, as he put down the Bobbsey address. "I expect to be with this circus all summer," he said, as Freddie and the other children bade him good-bye.
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